Andreth expected to find Finrod sitting on the bench in the clearing around the old well, with his hands clasped over his knees, or failing that, trying to see down the well, but certainly not lying on the grass playing with a—
“Andreth! It has been too long. How is your family? What news have you? Do you have any matters of import to discuss?”
“Is that a wolf pup?”
The wolf pup in question wriggled its plump furry body in excitement and chewed on Finrod’s ear with gusto. He absently put a hand over its muzzle and rolled onto his stomach in a tangle of blond hair.
“Apologies for my state. Of clothing, and other…states. Yes! ‘Tis a wolf pup. I killed the mother so I took her with me and intend to raise her as a dog.”
“A dog. Which is not a wolf. Yet that is.”
“Too true, and to that I shall say: that’s like a dog, though…” He trailed off significantly, as if expecting, or insisting, that his sentence would be, or ought to be, finished by another, and looked at Andreth from the corner of his eyes.
Andreth pursed her lips, walked to the well, took a drink from the dipper, and then sat heavily down on its edge. “Very well. I had thought that you might have a concern or a theory of the states of the creatures of Arda that you wished to propose to me, but it seems I am mistaken. Allow me to ask of your wisdom a question then: how is a wolf like a dog?”
Finrod broke into a brilliant toothy grin before schooling his features and kneeling up with a look of great intrigue and earnestness. “Why Andreth, do you not know how dogs came to be?”
“I know of dogs quite well. I live in a house with many.”
“On the Great Journey, my grandfathers and grandmothers were beset by creatures of Morgoth, including wolves, many times, but slew them. Many orphaned pups followed them toward the sea, and at the end some were taken to Aman by the kindest and most stubborn of elves, for the pups were small and helpless, and did not greatly resemble their cruel sires. And lo! When they grew to adulthood, they were gentle and beautiful, and their children still more so, and lived long and were our friends.”
“It is true as far as I know it.”
“Why, I believe I see your intent.” Andreth leaned forward, elbow on one knee, to bring her face close to Finrod’s. “The Enemy has now marred much that was once fair, yet these dogs were born of marred creatures and were made fair in your Valinor. One might guess it was done by Valinor, yet—”
“Yet we have dogs here in these lands as well, even in the east. So it is not Valinor that is needed to raise creatures that are whole from ones that are marred.”
“Yes!” Finrod sat cross-legged and drew the wolf pup into his lap. He looked at Andreth expectantly.
“It is as elves and orcs are, you mean, my lord. Though it seems, in reverse as well.”
“Indeed I do, are orcs not all marring? Not only elves who are marred, but they are the marring in itself, and the elf is set aside.”
“So you propose by this, that some marrings may be undone, perhaps, and so the course of the world and all its life and creatures may yet slope upwards if the tides and practices of its peoples align all aright.”
“In theory, perhaps, but perhaps yet the opposite. I doubt this upwards slope for I feel I am in error, but do not yet see by what means I erred. Though the planes of our imaginings in this sphere of thought are fraught. Our words cleave to our memories and trace the shapes of those cross-sections that occur when another thing intersects us, and not the thing itself. These shapes and these words, which are in the mind, and which are twined and have always been twined since our awakening with a world marred, and so what is may not be what is true, nor what it was meant to be, nor what it should be. Wolves we say are marring, marred, and a marring, all at once, and yet what were wolves in the beginning, and what were they meant to be? We have never seen their true forms. Dogs? But dogs are only what results when the wolves become the beasts of Man and Elf and share their lives, and so true wolves surely cannot be dogs — dogs are not a creature with essence independent, and solely of themselves. Yet are dogs closer to what was the truth of wolves in the beginning? Or farther, and yet fairer nonetheless?”
He paused for breath. Then paused for more.
“I see you have started without me and skipped forward to the exciting part.”
“No I did not, these words grew even as I spoke, forgive me. Andreth, what are dogs to your people, and what are your people to dogs — dogs as they are now, as you know them in your house?”
“What they are now? Friends and hunters, whose bark means danger and yet is more trusted and more of a comfort than any sound, for it means that though danger is all around and for all time, we are not alone with it in the dark. And I presume that we, to them, are whom they beckon when danger comes, though they know not what we might do against it. The danger may be wolves or not, yet they bark to summon or warn us, wolf or no, for they know that the danger is the marring, and not the wolf.”
“Memories of what things were in the beginning are not your domain, but to seek what lies behind a thing is? Saelind! Your words are the essence of your people.”
“I have heard that flattery will lead one round and round on paths one never wished to take and constrain one to pile one’s tongue with words of fools, my lord, so as to appear at least consistent.” Andreth handed him the dipper and crossed her legs. She frowned down at the wolf pup, docile and content with all its adult form’s sharp lean edges blunted.
“If you told all this to your wolf pup, would she grow wise? Or if you told it to the dogs, would they care why they bark? A grown wolf then, or an orc? Shall they listen?”
Finrod sighed. “No I suppose not. It was a study of thoughts and words, and the word “if” most of all.” He settled on his back on the sunlit grass, arms behind his head and eyes closed. “Yet how came dogs to be what they are to Men, Andreth? By what tales do your people know what they know of them?”
Andreth raised an eyebrow at the elf and the wolf pup curled at her feet, and grinned unseen.
“Our tales say we bestowed upon them names, of course. Of our own choosing, of words that fit their attributes as we saw them.”
“Indeed! Names are the first among all spoken words, most of all for those dear and well-known.”
Andreth shook her head. She would wait.
“We learned from watching and working with them much wisdom, of things we knew not about the world, and their abilities beyond our ken saved our lives times innumerable.”
“The wisdom of wild creatures, yes. It is likewise with elves and our horses.”
He still did not notice. Andreth slid down to kneel next to him, and spoke a little more loudly, and slowly.
“And some of the prideful among us believe that perhaps through us, they could turn their purpose to something other than their own survival, and become creatures unbound to the whims of the world around them, through our deliverance, lord.”
“A symbiotic relationship in your early days, by which you lifted yourselves out of the darkness, certainly!”
Andreth grinned wider and sat back on her heels. “And in the earliest meetings, they were the only creature who approached our fire, and were not repelled by it as other creatures were, and so by this we knew them as a friend!”
“A most understandable meeting, commonalities and symbols of meaning between diff—”
Finrod’s eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright. “Hold, wait just a minute you—!”
But Andreth had already swept out of the clearing with the wolf pup at her heels, leaving laughter scattering in her wake.